My Friend Horace, the Baboon

Being in the first Peace Corps program in Swaziland, I didn’t really know what I was getting into. Life in a small town (called Siteki) ended up being a swell experience, one that has stayed with me for life. But, at the beginning, however, it was a big and somewhat lonely adjustment. I would walk about a mile to my school and then normally into town in the late afternoon to buy food and other things from the two general stores. In walking to town, I always passed the truck yard of Trevor Dyson who ran a ten-truck transport service all over the country. In a totally fenced part of the yard lived Horace, a male orphaned baboon. One day, I stopped near the fence and Horace came to me snapping his teeth (in baboon language – this is a friendly hello).

“You can go in if you like,” came a voice behind me. “He is very friendly.” It was Trevor Dyson, an interesting man who after World War II drove from Cairo to South Africa (Swaziland borders S. Africa to the east). I later got to know Trevor well, stopping by his office for tea a few days a week. But back to Horace. I did take up his offer and opened the chain link gate and went in and sat on a flat rock. This being my first direct encounter with a wild animal (and not a small one!), I was nervous.

Horace came over, clicked his teeth again, sat next to me and began picking through the hair on my arm with incredible dexterity. He was grooming me. But the next move was altogether more interesting. Part of the grooming was to make sure there was no hair where it should not be. Starting with my elbows, he actually shaved me, so to speak, by chopping the hair with his front teeth until each elbow was clean. Next he did the same with my ear lobes!

Let me tell you, it is a unique experience hearing the “click, click, click” of his incisors which never came close to anything like a bite. He was the perfect living barber. My visits with Horace became a regular thing. He would see me coming way down the road, start pacing back and forth in anticipation, clicking his teeth as I entered. Down we would sit and the grooming would begin. He really became a friend. I was amazed how human he seemed. And looking back, I realized the nature of our relationship.

For different reasons, we were both lonely. I was taking the place of another baboon, and he a human. There was, of course, a sadness to his life. Like all wild animals, Horace should have been in the wild. Saying goodbye to him when I has finished my service, I choked up and, from the look on his face, he knew very well that something was up. From that day forward, my interest in animals, and my respect for them as sentient, social creatures, has only deepened. -- FO

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